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AWESOME TWOSOME

Shabana Azmi... Winner all the way. Photos: R.V. Moorthy

Shabana Azmi... Winner all the way. Photos: R.V. Moorthy  

TOGETHER, THEY have a dozen national awards and of course, a roof to share. He changed the persona of hero in the Indian film industry and she redefined the quiet, alluring dolls as female actors. In New Delhi to promote her latest film, Khalid Mohamed's "Tehzeeb", where Shabana Azmi plays a ghazal and pop singer, Rukhsana Jamal, she has played a singer in "Saaz" and she is playing a singer again in Mahesh Dattani's "Morning Raga". What's the difference? Enough bait for the stickler to start. "In `Saaz' I was a playback singer. In `Tehzeeb', I am a ghazal singer, who has started singing pop as well flowing with the times. And in `Morning Raga' I am a Carnatic music singer and that's the most difficult of all three because there I had to learn swarams in the typical southern accent. For three months, a master used to come to teach me, as though I just had to lip sync, I felt that right emotions and pauses wouldn't come across unless I learn the basics." To make one understand she sings a few lines from the Hindustani and Carnatic to explain her effort. "Rajeev Menon, the cinematographer used to taunt, why the director has chosen a North Indian for a Carnatic singer's part. But when the shoot was over, he accepted me as his guru," quips Shabana.

Continuing with her obsession, Shabana says, "In `Tehzeeb', Rukhsana is over the top type of character, who takes life face on. For the looks I took inspiration from two such ladies I know. One I can't reveal, the other one is Rukhsana Sultan, Amrita Singh's mother. I even asked Amrita to send her mother's pictures so that I could change my looks accordingly." Tell her she is confirming what her husband has to say about her, (read the adjoining story) after a hearty laugh, she says, "Yes, he suffers a lot because of me. He finds me genetically incapable to remain in a stable state. He tries to keep track of my schedule every day and loses the track the moment I tell him three assignments. My friends also complain. When I did the Ariel advertisement, I did a research on the contents of the product and interestingly the company shot the commercial on similar lines. All my friends grumbled first you bore us with your rehearsals and research, at least keep the commercials light."

AWESOME TWOSOME

People also talk about her dressing sense. "Yes, they do. In fact, some call me an invert snobbish because I shock people by going to parties in dresses, which are not in. Since I come from the region of patti ka kaam, I detest embroidery. And you know on Farhan's wedding my head was tonsured because of `Water'. So I put on sindoor running across my pate. I find rules in fashion quite boring," says Shabana in a pronounced Azamgarh accent.

Shabana defines her soul mate as a "very seductive person". "We share the same social concerns and world view. He is the biggest feminist I know, even bigger than my father. But whenever, I need him he is solidly behind me like sheshnag."

AWESOME TWOSOME

"He may come across as a casual person as the man has great felicity for writing. But he works very hard on whatever he does. Be it raising voice against communalism or writing songs. He gives multiple options to directors for the same situation."

On the changing trends in the portrayal of woman in Indian cinema, Shabana says, "It had something to do with our mythology. The heroine had to be Sita and follow Manu's prescriptions. Films with titles like `Main Chup Rahoongi' prove that. Plus, to lust after the wife was considered dreadful so the moment heroine got married she was draped in a sari. Films like `Tehzeeb' break such stereotypes. It accords respectability to workingwomen. Rukhsana is a workingwoman and wants her daughter to be one." Shabana is assisting her friend Aparna Sen in her next venture "Gulel" starring Ajay Devgan and Saif Ali Khan. "It is the story of a victim and assassin. All male thing but the treatment is feminine and that interested me." The quest continues.

CUT TO the significant other. This activist couple has so much to speak about issues that they seldom find time to reflect on each other. Ask Javed, does he remember the first time he met Shabana? "No, I don't," comes the curt reply. Finding one shocked, this bundle of civility loosens, "My father Jan Nisar Akhtar and her father (Kaifi Azmi) belonged to the same leftist group of revolutionary poets. We kept visiting each other's house frequently. So there is no particular date as such. I suppose when I first saw her she must be around one-year-old." Javed describes Shabana as a perfectionist. "Woh hote hain na bal ki khal nikalne wale, bilkul waisi. You know once she had to shoot for an advertisement for a brand of tea. Madam started drinking the particular brand many times a day to get the feel of the brand. And when I asked she said without drinking, the honest look won't come across on screen. Sometimes, it seems finicky, but she is like that." He loved Shabana's act in "Arth" and "Paar" but considers Mrinal Sen's "Khandhar" as her best performance. "It is very difficult to play a simple part effortlessly and she did that."

AWESOME TWOSOME

Javed is ready with another album "Shairana" with Alka Yagnik and Shankar Mahadevan. "It is a cross of different genres. The ghazals are not in classical mould and geets are not frivolous." However, he feels that today's ghazals give just as much literary nourishment as a chewing gum does. The man whose scripts always stood for the common man and changed the cinematic language forever from the polite to offensive portraying the seething anger prevalent in the Indian middle class in the `70s stuck to romance when he started reflecting his feelings in verse. From "Silsila" to "Kal Ho Naa Ho" does his poetry reflect mellowing down of his aggression? "Not at all. Film songs are written according to situations and more often than not we have romantic situations in our films for songs. In my non-film poetry, you will hardly find any romance." With seven generations glittering the history of Indian poetry, why he started as a scriptwriter? "Ab halwai ka ladka jab bigarta hai to mithai nahi banata. I also did something similar. I always knew that I can write and during my school days used to correct the poems of my classmates but I actually started writing at the age of 31-32, when some poets stop writing."

He loves Delhi because the place has a sense of history and hates it because of politicians. Politics brings to front his cutting quotes on Indo-Pakistan relations. Javed says, "History shows that countries haven't developed, it's the regions that have developed. North American development was different from South American and West European growth was marked different from Eastern Europe. So the growth of the entire South Asian region is at stake. The sooner these two countries understand this, the better it is for them."

AWESOME TWOSOME

Javed, who read the pulse of people to perfection for more than a decade, maintains that today's audience doesn't want to see melodrama and rhetoric. They do want a respite from reality but want films to be sensible and realistic. Talking about the changing trends, Javed says, "We don't have clerk, doctor or unemployed as a hero in our films because earlier producers used to make films mainly for smaller towns. Today their main target is metros and overseas territories, so the hero lives in palatial bungalow from the scene one. It is a lopsided development same as the country has seen in other fields."

Viewers are awaiting his son Farhan Akhtar's "Lakshya", which he has written after a long sabbatical. More than that after "Main Azaad Hoon", he is again chiselling a character for Amitabh whom he calls his "favourite actor of the present generation" with his trademark cynical smile. "The film is not an out and out war film as many are thinking. It has an army background with Amitabh playing the role of a colonel. That's it for now. I have to rush to recite Sardar Jafri's poetry, otherwise Shabana will divorce me."

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